This is the third of Shepherd Neame’s ‘recreated classic’ ales that I’ve reviewed for The Brewclub, and interestingly, this one is brewed from the oldest recipe.
It’s easy to consider ‘golden’ ales as a relatively modern confection, while I resisted them for a few years, it was Crouch Vale’s ‘Brewer’s Gold’ – the Champion Beer of Britain in 2005 and 2006 – that brought them to my attention.
Shepherd Neame’s ‘Brilliant’ dates back to the industrial revolution and could be considered alongside early pale lagers like Pilsner Urquell. Those were the days when gas fired maltings allowed better control over malt roasting, allowing for the production of pale malts, while mass produced glassware allowed drinkers to see (for the first time) the clarity and brightness of the brew they were drinking.
Shepherd Neame’s head brewer, Richard Frost, said “According to brewery records, Brilliant Ale was first brewed sometime between 1825 and 1855, making it our oldest Classic Collection beer to date. Although we’ve rejuvenated it by using the modern hop variety Cascade, we’re staying true to the spirit of this great pale ale, which was hugely popular in its day.”
I’m not sure how changing the hops of a recipe (from East Kent Goldings to Cascade) stays ‘true to the spirit’ but hey, let’s give it a go.
It pours a pale golden colour, as befits a beer called ‘Brilliant’, with a rich, pure white foaming head that gently subsides.
There’s no nose to speak of, but the flavour is well balanced. The hops lurk in the background initially, allowing a mellow toffee maltiness to seduce you. Then the hops sneak in, bright and crisp; not overly citrusy, more orange marmalade than grapefruit, but very pleasant.
Richard Frost is quoted as saying “We’re very proud to be able to revitalise unique brews like Brilliant from bygone days to share with today’s beer drinkers. We’ll leave it to them to judge whether the brilliance of its colour is matched by its taste!”.
Yes, the colour is brilliant, living up to the Shepherd Neame legend that ‘Brilliant Ale was inspired by the vision of the bright early morning sun sending its golden shafts of light through the brewhouse window… inspiring the brewing team to brew a beer that echoed these hues.’
On reflection, I guess that ‘pleasant’ is the keyword here, it’s a pleasant, enjoyable drink that I’d be happy to drink, but it suffers by comparison to the Shepherd Neame IPA, which is frankly awesome.